Archive for the 'dysfunctional' Category

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

03162008_0034.jpg
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein can be credited with that quote. He was a pretty smart guy, and the quote seems pretty obvious, but for some reason so many seem to keep using a bad process in hopes of a good result. It seems like Michigan and Detroit are guilty of this. How long has the auto industry been in decline? How long has manufacturing been in decline? A lot longer than this recession. How long have we known that a good education is a great predictor of economic well being, and how much does an educated workforce contribute to to economic growth? A long time, and a lot, respectively.

By now, I thought that there would be a lot less about Detroit to be found in the news. Instead it seems like articles just keep coming. Since I’ve had a baby, and had three jobs in the last six months, I’ve found I’m a bit behind on consuming Detroit related news, and articles. Here are a few interesting pieces I’ve come across lately:

Michigan has an inflated view of the quality of its schools according to Michigan Radio. In other words Michigan’s schools aren’t doing very well, and neither are it’s students. The inevitable, looming budget cuts should help.

Also, people just keep leaving Michigan. The upside is this has helped the unemployment rate. This can’t be good for the long term. Housing prices won’t be going up in most of metro Detroit if a trend of declining population continues. The same can be said for services, retail, and a host of other business sectors.

It’s amazing that the debate over mass transit continues. If you read the comments it’s apparent that some believe our roads are not only not subsidized, but are actually profitable, and any other form of subsidized transportation is just the tip of the socialism iceberg.

hp_industrial_building_night.jpg

Michigan has 800,000 less people employed people now than it did in 2000, has lost half of it’s manufacturing jobs in ten years, and has a $2 billion shortfall. So what does an MSU economist think? Does it matter?

Apparently, “there is more money to made in tearing Detroit down, around 2011, than building it back up…” That’s according to a New York Times review of Paul Clemen’s new book called, Punching Out, One Year in a Closing Auto Plant. Some interesting quotes that should bolster many people’s stereotypes of auto workers include, ““I drank 32 beers the other night”, and “Hell, I don’t even know what e-mail is.” Oh, and of course he hates, like so many others, French photographers who come to shoot “ruin porn”. I hate the term “ruin porn”.

And yet more hating on photographers of “ruin porn”.  The argument that photographers are contributing to Detroit’s problems is most certainly a red herring. As if Dorthea Lange contributed to the Great Depression. People will say bad things about Detroit, photographers will show bad things about it, and the media will report on bad things that happen in it. The author admits that photography of abandonment may raise awareness, but says, “but raising awareness is only useful if it provokes a next step, a move toward trying to fix a problem”. Using that requirement, all of those photographers who showed us the horrors of the wars, and other atrocities committed around the world, could have done some good, if only they’d come up with some solutions. Is it time for observers of Detroit to move on to new subjects? Perhaps. But it is definitely time for Detroit supporters to move beyond what others have to say about, and show of, Detroit. Photographers will photograph disasters, man made or natural, as long as they exist. Until houses and buildings are no longer abandoned faster than good things happen, the “bad” talk, photos, and reporting will continue.

the_spot.jpg

But, according to the author, at least Johnny Knoxville loves Detroit. There’s not doubt Detroit’s got some pretty cool things going on. It’s not enough for me to move back, nor most people for that matter. But, for those who do move there, and do something special, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due.

Andrew Moore is a photographer mentioned in the above piece in The New Republic. I like his work, and found this video to be pretty interesting. Another interesting video is Views of Detroit by three Danish students. You can see the full film on Vimeo. Interestingly the film states near the beginning, “The film uses a strongly subjective narrative, with no aim to point out answers to the challenges Detroit is currently facing.” Uh, oh…more artists who point out Detroit’s flaws without trying to fix them.

And just as it seems things couldn’t get any worse, Mayor Bing has announced no Robocop statue…What else does Detroit have without Robocop?

One industry that does seem to be doing well, is the film industry, and of course we can’t have that. At least one politician wants to rain on that parade. Not that I’m against a flat tax, but if we’re talking about removing incentives, we’re going to be affecting a lot more than the film industry. Might want to think through the consequences before making that recommendation…unless you’re a Libertarian of course.

model_t_plant_night.jpg

I don’t understand why this complaint keeps coming up. It’s like some in Michigan just don’t get it. Why is anyone surprised that a company is having trouble finding qualified tech workers in Delta Township, Michigan? First of all Michigan is not a hotbed of tech workers. And secondly, Delta Township is going to be even less of a tech worker haven. If you look at a map of Delta Township, you’ll see that’s it borders Lansing (no metropolis mind you), and just to the west is farmland. If you need tech workers, you’d best be located where tech workers live. Michigan may have a high unemployment rate, but if it’s anything like the rest of the country good tech workers aren’t having a very hard time finding work. Being located in Delta Township won’t make finding good tech workers any easier.

According to a study from MSU, “build it and they will come” doesn’t quite work out. It turns out that the people come first, then the jobs. But why would people come? That’s the question. The study is talking more about business travelers, particularly those traveling by air (strange study), than the creative types Richard Florida often talks about. Interestingly, the article says, “the finding does not contradict more direct job-creation strategies, including the construction of office and retail spaces”. Huh? So build, don’t build…what? Of course business travelers won’t come to metro Detroit without a reason. The article also says that the cities least likely to benefit include Detroit. Not so helpful…

20101227_0053.jpg

I have an idea. I’ve mentioned it before. Not that it is a new idea, or isn’t already happening, but there is a driven, entrepreneurial, and hardworking population that could reinvigorate Detroit. The group of people would be called immigrants. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ve also linked to an article on Model D about Steve Tobocman before as well, but it’s still a really good idea. Model D has another article by Steve regarding the importance of embracing immigration in Detroit. I personally know some who have trouble with this idea, because gosh darn it, they aren’t just like me. Never mind, that their own ancestors were immigrants too. And they weren’t always welcome either. They were different too.

I recently came across a couple of interesting maps. The first shows the best and worst metro areas for jobs. Of course the Detroit metro area was one of the top five worst. The second is the map of “State Superlatives”. The bad superlative for Michigan is “unemployment”. Not surprising. And the good superlative is “best freshwater access”. There’s no denying that one either. Michigan has got freshwater, and lots of it. The third map shows the concentrations of adults with college degrees. While Michigan looks better than, say, Louisiana, it certainly looks worse than states such as Colorado, or areas on either coast.

And finally a couple of arguments for cities. In any discussion about urban vs. suburban vs. rural living, you’ll find many naysayers who have nothing good to say about cities. Say what you will about them, they are central to the economies of pretty much all nations. Not surprisingly, without a strong city, metro Detroit is, and has struggled for a long time. Turns out concentrations of smart, educated people are good for innovation, and innovation is good for the economy. Who’d have thought?

Do you photograph the good parts?

20101227_0013.jpg

A minivan pulled up as I got back into my car after photographing this house. “Are you with the film industry”, she asked. “I’m a tailor and sometimes they need those people”, she continued. I told her I wasn’t involved with the movie industry, and she then asked me why I was taking photos of a burned out, abandoned house. My explanation that it’s part of a long term, personal project that I’m working on didn’t seem to satisfy her curiosity. That’s when she asked, “Do you photograph the good parts too, or just the bad parts?”

I really wanted to be able to say I photograph both. Over the years, I have photographed both the good and the bad, but the truth is, lately I primarily photograph the bad parts. Rarely do I focus on the good anymore. I know there are good things happening in the city, but I don’t show them. I suppose it’s easier to just drive downtown with my limited time, and photograph the things that I see along the way. Which is pretty much what I do. It’s partly convenience, but it’s also the reality of many people’s experiences with the city. It’s hard to enter the city from any direction, on any road or freeway, and not be blown away by the amount of abandonment and decay. After more than thirty years of living in the area, I know I am still shocked by what I see in the city.

2049471873_2cec7dd802_o.jpg

I don’t live in the area anymore, and I find the same uniqueness, and grittiness that supposedly makes Detroit so great is everywhere. Grittiness isn’t Detroit’s secret ingredient, it’s simply a nice way of saying it’s a hard place to live. Who needs that? I’m happy for those who love the area, and truly feel they belong here, but life can be a challenge without having to fight dysfunction every step of the way.

So, do I photograph the good parts too? No. Not right now. I’d really like to, but I think I still need more distance. I need to become even more of an outsider. Unfortunately coming back to the area still brings out bitterness. I like projects such as the “walk-in portrait studio” , The Power House, and the Russell Industrial Center, but some heralded establishments are only unique because they happen to be in Detroit. In any other city, it would just be one more good place to go.

The good, and interesting things in Detroit don’t make up for streets like Robinwood, where a resident said about his situation, “It would be Hell if I was dead, but I ain’t. So that just makes the place ugly. The most ugly thing that human beings can create.” Unfortunately, Robinwood, wasn’t, and certainly isn’t, the worst street in Detroit. In some places six families would be considered a high number for a street. While the woman who asked me if I photograph the good parts said that there were good things happening in Detroit, she also mentioned there were only a few houses left on her side of the street she lived on.

Castle House burns down

I was always amazed that the house in Brush Park, known as the Castle House, had survived pretty much intact all these years. Unfortunately it now joins many other once beautiful houses that have been razed. According to the Detroit Free Press, the house burned down this morning, and was knocked down this evening.

04150404_16.jpg

Fear over downsizing

05102010_0047.jpg

Some people can’t help themselves, some can’t accept the help of others, and some will never be happy. The latter category is apparently the camp some Detroiters fit into. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a lot of residents fear what downsizing…I mean “right sizing” will mean for them and their neighborhoods. Because as things stand now, a plan to actually do something is more scary than the present plan, which is to allow the city to continue its long decline towards oblivion.

05102010_0042.jpg

Yes, some may have to move from the home they love. And no, the gestapo will not drag you from your house. But once the city consolidates services, your one house neighborhood may be, by all intents and purposes, abandoned (like it isn’t already?).  “Of course you don’t have to evict people to force them to move…” That statement is true of course. At some point some residents may have to move. Like it or not, the road ahead is going long and rough. Many will not be happy, but is anybody happy with the present circumstances?

Fires

07200901_16.jpg

Three devastating fires in three states in the same week…

Near Boulder, Colorado almost 170 homes in a scenic area known as Fourmile Canyon have burned in a fire of unknown origin. In San Bruno, California, near San Francisco, a ruptured gas line caused an explosion that killed at least four people and destroyed nearly 40 homes. In Detroit downed power lines, and illegal electrical hookup, strong winds, and apparently dysfunctional services led to fires that destroyed 71 homes several days.

07200901_13.jpg

Which is the most devastating? A fire possibly caused by nature, an explosion from an approximately 60 year old underground gas pipe, or one caused by a person living in poverty illegally hooking up to the electrical system, combined with power lines that have been down for days? It probably doesn’t matter, though many of the people who lost their houses in Detroit probably don’t have home owners insurance. And while they could by a house in the city for $10,000, some probably can’t afford even that. The only upside is that apparently only 29 of the 71 homes were confirmed as occupied…

The abandoned house of the week

05102010_0049.jpg

City of Highland Park: Working For You

10150402_17_xl.jpg

The photo above was take in October of 2004. The below image is, presumably, somewhat newer.


View Detroit Photos in a larger map

Updated map of abandonment

Many houses have been torn down since I last updated the map.


View Detroit Photos in a larger map

The abandoned neighborhood of the week

07200903_09.jpg

07200903_10.jpg

More Detroit vs. The Media drama, and What Detroit has, what Detroit’s losing, and what Detroit needs

11240602_10.jpg

This was supposed to have been posted a week, or so, ago. But thanks to my old job, four days out of town, jury duty, and a new job to start, none of what’s here is new. But, since I went to the trouble to write it, I’m posting it anyway.

Detroit vs The Media

The drama never ends for Detroit. NBC hates Detroit, and now ABC as well. ABC’s new crime drama set in Detroit has got some all bent out of shape once again. As always there were some interesting comments including:
“Why must the media prortray Detroit is such a bad light.” - Do we always have to ask this question? Seriously, is there any question as to why the media portrays the city the way that it does? Besides, did anyone complain about Law and Order making New York look bad, or CSI making Vegas look bad? Detroit deserves a break because it really is that bad? If only the media would give Detroit a break, surely things would improve. There were, as always, so interesting comments.

“Perhaps a chat with the directors of ABC would change their mind.” - Doubt it. Why do Detroiters always want to have a chat with the media about the way the city is portrayed? And, anyway how would that conversation go? Detroiter - “Will you to stop portraying Detroit in a negative light?” ABC exec - “No.”

“And I think the promo is wrong in saying that Detroit is the murder capital. I think we are up there, but more like number 3. New Orleans is #1″ - Yeah, take that ABC. They really ought to get their facts straight. Oh wait, according to ABC Detroit was the murder capital in 2008…hmm coincidence or conspiracy to paint Detroit badly?

“Was anything truthful said? Or is it Americas’ loss of integrity personified.” - Huh?

“I’m as sensitive to Detroit’s image as anyone, but I think that viewers will be able to decipher this as fiction.” - One might think so, but judging by reactions, that sentiment is not shared by many others.”

“So i can understand why ABC is doing a crime series set in Detroit.It’s about time. What took so long? I think I’ll send them some story ideas. I have many, too many, & these are all true, nothing make-believe.” - This one makes sense..

05102010_0040.jpg

What Detroit Has

What does Detroit have, beyond high unemployment, high crime rates, and bitter defenders? Well according to POP City, Detroit has a few things Pittsburgh ( and presumably, other Rust Belt cities ) could use. Of course POP City is owned by Issue Media Group, which also just happens to publish Model D and Metromode as well, booth of which ardent Detroit boosters. Nonetheless, perhaps there are some good things that Detroit has, that other places could use. According to POP City, Detroit has:

The Greening of Detroit:

I can imagine that almost no other city in the United States has an organization quite like the Greening of Detroit, of course no other city has the amount of abandoned land that Detroit has. I like the Greening of Detroit and what they do.

Tech Town:

Tech Town is a great idea, and I hope some great things come of it. Bringing smart, creative, and innovative people together is exactly what Detroit needs. Technology may make it possible to work in isolation in Bad Axe, but in reality innovation comes from people pushing the envelope, and building on one another’s successes. This doesn’t often happen in isolation. It’s the reason Silicon Valley, Boston, and NYC keep creating new companies, and why they get so much of the investment dollars.

The M-1 Rail Project:

Detroit doesn’t have this yet. It is hoped that construction will begin before the end of 2010. Unfortunately, it takes several years to complete a section of rail through an urban area, and in an area that continues to lose population, it’ll will be difficult to make it happen.

Art:

Detroit does have this, and some good stuff at that. But projects such as the Heidelberg Project are products of an extreme situation that nobody wants. I really like the Heidelberg Project, but I’d rather not have the massive amounts of blight and abandonment that has to go along with it.

A Food Scene:

I can’t comment on Pittsburgh’s food scene, but Detroit’s food scene is decent, but not incredible. I love Slow’s but, even cities with lower populations, such as Denver and Portland, have better food scenes than Detroit. Five or six places…even a dozen good places aren’t enough for an area the size of Detroit.

Regardless of whether or not I feel this list is a good example of what other areas need or not (I don’t), the metropolitan Detroit area does have somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.5 million residents. That’s a significant amount of people, who could be customers, and employees or employers. Whether or not the area can capitalize on that depends on the decisions the residents, businesses, and politicians make over the next decade or so. If we were to look to the decisions of the past 40 years the outlook would be rather grim. Perhaps though, the next generation of policy makers can make better decisions than the last.

05102010_0050.jpg

What Detroit’s Losing

Unfortunately this is an easy one. Detroit’s losing everything from people to money. What is really bad, is that metro Detroit is losing young college grads. I recently read this article about college education rates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Scroll down to the section titled, “By the Numbers”. My guess is Detroit doesn’t compare very well, even considering Milwaukee’s meager numbers.

What Detroit Needs

What Detroit needs is pretty much the inverse of what it’s losing, including a young, educated workforce, immigrants, Innovation, and, well…pretty much everything. Recovery seems to be a tricky, chicken/egg situation. Hi tech businesses locate where the talent is. Talent locates where the jobs are. Jobs are found where the hi tech businesses are. With each being a prerequisite for the other, how do you attract either one to Detroit? This is one of the arguments many make against authors such as Richard Florida. Reading what urban theorists such as Florida have to say make many feel that the”in” places, such as Chicago, D.C., and Silicon Valley, have already won. There’s no possible way to beat them if you take Florida’s theories without actually reading far enough. And that’s true to a certain extent. Nobody was able to beat Detroit as the automotive capital for 75 years or so, even with such bad management decisions. However, that didn’t stop Chicago, D.C., or Silicon Valley, and many, many other places, from thriving. Detroit doesn’t have to be Chicago, but it does have to be something other than the same old Detroit we’ve all known for far too long.